Oct. 24, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina first-year head coach Mark Speir spent time Tuesday morning with members of the media on the Southern Conference's Head Coaches' Teleconference. He reflected on the road loss at Elon last Saturday before quickly turning his attention to this Saturday's gridiron grudge match, the annual "Battle for the Old Mountain Jug" which is set for 3:30 pm at E.J .Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
"It was a tough fought ball game down there in Burlington last week," opened Speir in recounting last Saturday's loss at Elon. "They jumped out on us pretty hard and heavy, 28-0, just right out of the gate. And to our players' and coaches' credit, our guys kept battling and found a way to stop the bleeding. We scored right there before half and then came out of the locker room on fire and got it down to a (two score) game. Held them to seven points in the second half, but we never could get that one touchdown."
He added, "I was proud of our young men the way they didn't quit, kept on fighting and clawed their way back into a ball game. We didn't find a way to win it. Coach (Jason) Swepson and those guys had a good game plan; they executed it and did a nice job with their team."
Speir commented that he and his staff are "still trying to find our best 11; still trying to develop a program and build a team."
"I told our coaches, we've got to coach them this week like they're 7-1, not 1-7. And continue to get better," Speir commented.
The next opportunity for Western Carolina (1-7, 0-6 SoCon) comes in the form of archrival, Appalachian State (5-3, 3-2 SoCon). The Mountaineers come down from Boone after suffering their second loss in league play - both of which have come at home, a first for ASU since 2002. Speir - who spent nine seasons on the sidelines in the Black & Gold - realizes that the Mountaineers are in unfamiliar territory entering Saturday's game.
"App's back's against the wall a little bit right now. They don't control their own destiny for a championship, but they do control their own destiny as far as winning out and getting themselves into the playoffs," explained Speir. "I know Coach (Jerry) Moore and the staff, they take every game seriously, one at a time. We're going to get their very best shot this week in Cullowhee. I don't see them letting down emotionally. Just because we're 1-7, they know what they have to do and being around that program, I know the mindset of those players this week and how they're going to practice and how those coaches are going to coach them. We'll probably get their very best shot this week - and we wouldn't have it any other way."
Speir got a crash course in the mountain rivalry from 1991 through 1996 while on staff at WCU. During that five-year span, the Catamounts went winless against their rival - but four of the five games were decided by seven points or less with an average margin of victory during that time frame of 8.8 points.
On the flip side, Speir spent nine seasons patrolling the sidelines under Appalachian State head coach, Jerry Moore. The Mountaineers dropped the 2004 meeting - WCU's last win in the head-to-head series entering Saturday's match-up - but Speir was 8-1 on staff in Boone and held a 22.9 average margin of victory in the eight wins.
As if the 77-year old rivalry and the battle for the 37-year old traveling trophy, the "Old Mountain Jug" needed any more story lines, that of Speir and four other assistant coaches have added fuel to the fire. Speir along with offensive coordinator Brad Glenn; offensive line coach John Holt; and wide receivers coach Trey Elder all coached in Boone up until last season, with offensive assistant Jordan Smith also aiding on the Mountaineer staff as an undergraduate. Holt, Elder and Catamount tight ends coach Pat Mills all wore the Black & Gold and played against WCU.
"You always look forward to this game. Whichever side you're on, it's a rivalry game," said Speir. "Our two alumni bases, student bodies, Western North Carolina - it's a rivalry game. These are fun games to be a part of. I know we're not going to have to motivate our players at all this week."
"I'm excited about playing this game. I've had a lot of phone calls from App State people, from Western Carolina people. Those emotions and all are high, but it all boils down to which team gets prepared to play and which team executes this Saturday," said Speir. "We know what we're crawling in the ring with and what their state of mind is - their backs are against the wall. But, we're going to go into this ball game as coaches and players expecting to win Saturday. If we play disciplined and we play our very best game, we'll have a chance. If we don't, it'll just be another learning experience."
Speir summed it up by stating, "I'm expecting a big rivalry, a great crowd this Saturday and I think it'll be a great afternoon of football."
Tickets for Saturday's "Battle for the Old Mountain Jug" continue to go fast. All of the general admission seats on the East side of the stadium are sold out with just a few reserved seats on the West side remaining. It is recommended to purchase tickets in advance by calling (800) 34-GOWCU or by logging onto CatamountSports.com.
Here's an excerpt from Tuesday's SoCon Teleconference:
Western Carolina head football coach, Mark Speir:
On facing Appalachian State and former head coach, Jerry Moore:
"You always look forward to this game. Whichever side you're on, it's a rivalry game. Our two alumni bases, student bodies, Western North Carolina - it's a rivalry game. These are fun games to be a part of. I know we're not going to have to motivate our players at all this week. Our biggest coaching job - and what I told the team Monday night - it's our next opportunity, it's our next opponent, it's our next Southern Conference game. Emotions are high here at Western Carolina - they want to beat Appalachian as bad as anyone on the schedule. What we've got to do as coaches is to prepare our team. We can't get caught up in the emotions and all that because that wears out after about the second play, then you've got to fall back on preparation; being prepared to play a very talented football team."
On the relationship with ASU head coach, Jerry Moore:
"Coach (Jerry) Moore is a guy that besides my dad, I don't respect a guy on this planet any more. No one has done more for my personal life than Jerry Moore. Here in the last month of my first year as a head coach, I'm going to get to coach against a future hall of famer at the FCS level in Jerry Moore; and a future hall of famer in Nick Saban on down the road. There's a lot of valuable lessons when you watch those guys and you learn how to prepare. But, it's going to be fun."
On the relationship between the two coaching staffs:
"It's kind of like a sibling rivalry. You don't want anybody else to mess with them, but in the back yard, you want to beat your brother as bad as you want to beat anybody, but we've got a lot of respect for them. When this ball game is over, those guys are still going to be some of my best friends in the world."
On what a win Saturday would mean to WCU:
"Our players look at what App State's done over the last 10 years. It's a game for our program that if you can go beat Appalachian State, what a statement it would make for our football team in recruiting. What a win like that would mean to our players here; what a win for our seniors; what a win for us going into our off-season for our players buying in. A lot of things ride on this ball game."
Appalachian State head coach, Jerry Moore:
On Mark Speir and whether he talked to Coach Moore about the WCU opening:
"When Mark and I first began to talk about (the Western Carolina job), I told him, you're a perfect fit because he'd been there. He was over there and knew the people. He's a good football coach and knows a ton of high school coaches, particularly in North and South Carolina and Georgia. I don't think (Mark) ever had any reservations about taking the job."
"It's a three-game season for us. The Southern Conference championship is probably out for us, so in order to make the playoffs, we have to beat Western Carolina, beat Georgia Southern and beat Furman. But all I want our players to focus on is beating Western."